The first leg of the journey.


“I’m leaving on a jet plane. I don’t know when I’ll be back again.”      — John Denver.

The plane journey was long. Flying into Europe as a whole is about 8 hours, but this stands out for a few reasons. A lot of firsts occured yesterday.

First time on a new airline: Jet Airways, a carrier based in India. First time doing a 7 hour layover. First time in Belgium. And of course, first time in Spain.

By the end of the day, Dad and I found our hotel. He assures me that this neat and tidy, private room, is as good as it gets. By tonight, we will be staying in albergues, the pilgrims’ hostels that lie along the roads to Santiago. As it is, we’ve also done our first round of hand washing. Still damp, but we should be able to fix that with the room’s hand dryer.

Before we check out, our intention is to fuel up with the hotel’s breakfast buffet. We won’t get a chance for a proper sit down meal until St. Jean Pied de Port, just over the border in France. After the bus to get there, as well as the first albergue sleep, the Camino really begins!

The Trainers

Good Friday is a day spent in reflection. Nothing is supposed to be done; no chores, no work (thus being a day off), all in preparation for the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday. Typically, Catholic folk dwell an the death of Christ on the cross and his suffering. But as I spent the last few Fridays (and the odd days in between) going on training walks for Spain, I wanted to spend some time on the group my dad and I walked with.

Anatomy of a Camino Veteran

This walking group is a voluntary effort organized by Darlene McKee, a lady living in the East end of Toronto. Every Friday, she leads a group that sets out from her house and meets others that gather at Riverdale Park and The Brickworks for a walk that goes on regardless of weather.  So, rain or shine, hot or cold, these folks follow Darlene as she sets the pace and the route for the next 15 to 17 kilometers.

Mind you, my primary trainer for walking the Camino has been my father.  He’s been a great example of what a good long walk can do to you health and spiritual well being.  Having said that, both Dad and I have gotten a lot of great tips from Darlene and a lot of other great people we’ve met on these trips.

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There were lots of other folks that generously kept giving advice and stories of walking the Camino.  Lenore talked about an essential oil mixture to combat bed bugs.  Donna talked about pinning wet laundry or towels with safety pins to the outside of the pack to dry when walking on a sunny day.  One fellow asked if I felt comfortable with a long rain poncho I wore one day, cautioning about windy conditions in Spain that could turn that rain cover into a sail.

Two fellows, Kai and Mike, showed me how to adjust my pack.  The weight is supposed to sit primarily on my hips so my whole body carries it, not just my shoulders.  Darlene, of course, set the example of how to walk efficiently for those long stretches of terrain.  She uses small steps that fall under the hips.  They don’t look like much, but with a rapid cadence, her feet can churn out the kilometers and keep excellent balance over almost any slippery conditions.

And I also got a taste for how different folks walk at different paces.  And, it’s okay if you’re not the fastest walker.  This isn’t a race, it’s a journey.  Believe me, it’s a humbling experience to be nominally the youngest member of a group of trail hikers, whose average age is 70 or so, and being the last or next to last to catch up to them at a rest stop.  The point, I guess, is to walk how you walk.

I got tips on what to wear, how much weight to carry, stretching from those folks that actually stretch (most of them just pull on their packs and go), where to eat in Spain and Toronto (they know some good places to get lunch), and so on.

Darlene is doing her final walk after Good Friday services, and then she and her traveling companion are leaving on Sunday, a day before my Dad and I depart.  She’s starting from the same point, and on the same route, the Camino Frances, but I don’t know if we’ll ever see her.  I mentioned she can walk really fast, didn’t I?  At any rate, I’m so grateful to have met this fine group of folks who get together in a spirit of healthy and community.

Departure for Spain is coming soon …

Preparing the backpack

You’d think packing a backpack would be easy, right?  Just stuff it with what you need, and put it on.

I discovered it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The impression I get from Camino veterans is that you actually need a lot less than you think.  For example, you only need two changes of clothes, and you’re already wearing one.  So, the spare shirt, pants, socks, underwear, and maybe one light jacket.

Perhaps there’s a raincoat in there, along with a towel and a sleeping bag.  Of course there’s a water bottle in a side pocket.  And of course, there are your toiletries like soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, and whatever prescriptions you need.

But what else comes with that?

I had heard of a suggestion that your pack should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight.  Well, as of right now, I weigh about 217 pounds, so I should carry about 20 pounds worth.

Here’s the thing; my pack currently has a change of clothes, a raincoat, sleeping bag, towel, and my Android tablet plus accesories.  That’s without the poles, food and water, and toiletries.   The current total weight:16 pounds.

Oh dear …

My backpack